Singer-songwriter with an unexpected message

Kinnie Starr, activist and artist | Photo by Robin Gartner

The idea of kindness and the variations of love that co-exist within society is the topic Kinnie Starr will invoke at the next EMMA Talks. 

I’ve always been interested in platforms that are well-curated, like EMMA Talks or TED Talks,” says Starr. “Women’s voices are often phased out of a lot of arenas, so EMMA Talks makes an effort to create a space for women to share their ideas.”

The underground conscious hip-hop and rap artist will share her views of love and kindness Feb. 28 at Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre – Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

Emma Bergman who co-directs EMMA Talks with Corin Browne, first saw Starr perform eight years ago and was drawn to her contributions on social issues related to gender equality, First Nations land rights, and the importance of protecting waterways.

“Kinnie Starr is a singer, so we hear some of her thoughts through song. I love giving people the opportunity through EMMA Talks to go deeper into subject matter that is important to them,” says Bergman.

The love hop artist

Love hop” is how Starr defines her music – an unlikely angle for a rap artist.

“I’m not considered a rap artist because my lyrics are about family, love and communications,” says Starr who is of French, German, Irish and Mohawk heritage.

Starr says the media reserves the title of rap artist for angry black men who rhyme about jostling for power in the violent, drug popping, impoverished cities across America.

Even her music is not referred to as conscious rap, despite the fact that many of her songs have a political message.

“Guys are called conscious rappers, but if you’re a woman and you’re political, then you’re categorized as spoken word or a poet,” says Starr. “A woman loses credibility as a rap artist because she’s not hard, not gangster enough. It’s stupid. Rap music has evolved over the last 40 years or so. It’s a growing culture, and like any culture it should grow and change.”

Kindness trumps all

The topic of kindness and love has been percolating in Starr’s mind for a very long time.

“It’s something I’ve been writing about and thinking about since I began making art,” says Starr. “Even before I started doing graffiti, before I started producing music, I was interested in the meaning of kindness and the action of love.”

Starr believes that the act of kindness is critical to humanity. For instance, Starr asks people to think critically about why kitten images go viral through social media and at the same time acknowledge the millions of negative viral messages that successfully glamorize the hateful conversations shared by extroverted personalities.

“Anyone who is interested in the conversation of why we want to be better people, should be interested in what I might be talking about,” says Starr.

Hard times teach kindness

Starr was in a tragic car accident two year’s ago and was left with a concussion that caused a serious visual and spacial reasoning disorder. In a flash her world turned upside down; she was unable to dress herself and was reliant on her family’s care.

“It’s been pretty humbling and frightening, and pretty illuminating,” says Starr. “Before the accident, I was accustomed to being a person on the front lines of a lot of conversations. And as an artist, I enjoyed talking about difficult subject matter. But since the accident, I’m much more reluctant to put myself in harm’s way.”

Four years prior, Starr produced the album We Are… by Digging Roots, which won the Juno Award for Aboriginal Recording of the Year in 2010. Her fan base was growing, she was touring, and revelling in the invitations to collaborate on albums with other hip-hop artists. It was a pivotal stage in Starr’s music career when she was forced to take a step back.

Today, after some very dark days, Starr is writing music and performing again. She’s hesitant to include details of her hard times as part of her monologue next week, but recognizes how recovery has expanded her understanding of kindness.

“When I was injured, I felt useless,” says Starr. The process of recovery has helped me learn to love myself again.”

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